Much Ado About Nothing Character Map:
Count John “the Bastard” Don Pedro Hero Claudio
Antonio Friar Francis
Margaret the Handmaid Leonato (Hero’s Father)
Cuckolding A Brief Guide to Early Modern Anxieties About Infidelity
In the Early-Modern vernacular, “cuckold” refers to a husband who has been cheated on. The word comes from the Cuckoo, a bird who lays its eggs in another’s nest, and whose children get reared by someone else. As a joke in Much Ado About Nothing, “cuckold” and “cuckolding” play with anxieties about soldiers’ wives being unfaithful while they are away, and also allude to interrupted lines of inheritance—as with the villain, John “the Bastard.”
This French drawing of a room of cuckolds underscores the humorous undertone of “cuckolding” as a popular idea. That said, it’s also worth reflecting on the multiple meanings that arise with the idea of a husband who worries about his wife’s fidelity so much that he gains horns. After all, the sinister associations of men with horns suggest the anger and violence that could emerge from wounded pride and misogynist anxieties about a partner’s infidelity. We see this play out in Much Ado as well, especially during Hero and Claudio’s wedding scene.